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February 17, 2006—The Air Force has been fighting the battle of the personnel bulge for nearly two years, identifying in early 2004 that it exceeded its authorized end strength by more than 16,000 airmen. Last year, the service managed to reach the 2005 mandated level of 359,700 active duty airmen, only to have the number for 2006 drop lower—to 357,400.

The new target left the service with too many officers—some 4,000 in junior grades. Late last year, the Air Force began what it termed force shaping phase II (phase I was the 2005 effort to cut both enlisted and officer personnel), targeting the 2002 and 2003 officer calendar year groups. Service officials launched a full-court press, highlighting voluntary separation programs, such as the Blue to Green Program with the Army and Palace Chase with the reserve components. They also have encouraged eligible officers to look at opportunities for federal civilian jobs. 

The effort appears to be working. Through voluntary separations and job switches to stressed career fields, USAF has been able to reduce its target list by more than a third.

It’s not just a matter of lopping off the most junior of the junior officers. The force shaping process involves managing how many officers remain within a given career field as well as within year groups. First Lt. Sharon Rogers at the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph AFB, Tex., says the center provides updated vulnerability lists by field and year and will continue to do so about once a week until March 1. At that point, anyone left in a vulnerable category must face an Officer Force Shaping Board set to meet April 10.

According to Rogers, as of Feb. 9, the total number of junior officers still in the danger zone—facing involuntary separation—was 2,657.

She said volunteer moves had eliminated seven of the 17 target groups for 2003 and two of 16 targets for 2002. Rogers said that AFPC is “keying on” the 2002 group, which still must drop 860 officers compared to another 190 for 2003. 
When all is said and done, force-shaping phase II may be the easy part. The Air Force now plans to cut an additional 57,000 personnel—active, reserve, and civilian—from Fiscal 2007 to 2011. Service leaders have decreed the upcoming drawdown also will be termed force shaping.